"Cannot Ban Media Reporting Oral Observations": SC To Election Commission

Media is a watchdog and it cannot be banned from reporting on oral observations made during court hearings.

The Supreme Court on Monday observed that the media cannot be banned from reporting oral observations made during the course of court hearings. Sometimes the reportage of dialogue in courts is of "equal public interest", the SC said.

The top court's observations came while it was hearing on an appeal filed by the Election Commission of India against the Madras High Court's observations that the poll panel is "singularly responsible for the surge in COVID-19" and that it "should probably be booked for murder".

The apex court bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah further advised the poll panel to take comments made by the Madras High Court "in the right spirit".

"The High Court judges are overburdened, they're burning the midnight oil. They're only saying what they're seeing," Justice Chandrachud observed. "Sometimes the comments are harsh but we want to see in larger public interest something is done. After a series of orders, which may not be implemented, the HC may be anguished," Justice Shah added.

Media is the watchdog of society: SC

The election commission's plea to prevent the media from reporting oral observations made in court is "farfetched", the top court observed. The media cannot be banned from reporting oral observations, the bench added. Sometimes the dialogue between the bar and the bench is as important as the judgments, the court said.

Sometimes the discussions made in court are of equal public importance. The unfolding of the judicial process in court is important. The dialogue festers a sense of the court's application of mind, Justice Chandrachud said. The dialogues further bring in a sense of accountability for the judges and will foster citizens' confidence in the judicial process, he added.

High Court observations should be swallowed like a "bitter pill," Justice Shah said. "Your subsequent decisions after the (high court's) remarks have improved the system. Look at what happened in counting. You take it in the right spirit.. as a bitter pill", Justice Shah said.

"Often something is said due to past experience or after a series of orders not being adhered to. Everything cannot be in order," justice Shah added.

Following the sharp remarks made by the Madras High Court, the poll panel issued circulars and directed the implementation of COVID protocols during the recently concluded polls in four states and one union territory.

"We don't want to demoralize our High Courts, which are doing tremendous work during the COVID...We cannot tell the Judges that confine yourself to pleadings. They are burning the midnight oil, they are overwhelmed. They are also humans, they are seeing what is happening on the ground. It is bound to affect your psyche," Justice Chandrachud observed.

"We are looking at this from a long-term impact on the functioning of high courts. We don't want to demoralize our high courts. They are vital pillars of our democracy. Things are often said in an open dialogue between bar and bench," Justice Chandrachud added. "What I am saying is not to belittle the Election Commission, but democracy survives only when the faith in the institutions are strengthened.

The Supreme Court will pass detailed orders on this issue by Thursday.

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